Sales and Marketing – What’s the difference?

Sales and marketing are like two peas in a pod.

While they’ve always worked closely together to drive revenue, the line between the two departments is becoming increasingly blurred.

Who generates leads? Who posts on social media? Who provides value along the buyer’s journey?

In this article, I want to highlight the difference between sales and marketing while also acknowledging areas of overlap.

The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

Cutting to the chase – what’s the primary difference between sales and marketing? To me, it’s what they focus on:

The focus of sales is on the individual prospect.

The focus of marketing is on the overall market.

Sales and marketing teams both exist to drive profitable revenue for the business. However, knowing these differences in their focus is key to understanding activities and responsibilities.

Let’s explore them individually further.

The Role of Sales

Sales teams should be focused on driving revenue from individual prospects. While they engage the entire market in search of potential leads, their activities are centered around getting sales from individual buyers. To do so, they need to understand the unique problem and business impact at an individual customer level.

A great sales team should be adept at guiding their prospects through the buyer’s journey, showing how their desired change is necessary and positively impacts their business. This requires specific business knowledge to identify problems, quantify impacts, and propose custom solutions.

Turning prospects into qualified leads is often a multi-faceted approach. This includes outbound sales activities like cold calling, emails, and networking. But it also includes inbound efforts commonly powered by a marketing funnel through web marketing and advertising.

Modern sales strategy also includes components like social selling. This enables sales professionals to become thought leaders and engage their buyers online as part of their sales strategy. Unlike general brand awareness marketing, they aim to speak to potential prospects’ business needs and nurture existing opportunities via social media channels.

And of course, sales is ultimately tasked with making the “sale.” As they work with individual prospects, they are responsible for, and compensated for, generating revenue through final purchases. This process includes many unique activities with discovery sessions, proposal presentations, and contract negotiations.

Great salespeople are often:

  • Business-minded – A sales professional should be business-minded and able to effectively identify business problems and their impacts on the prospects they are working with.
  • Consultative – Having consultative selling skills will enable sales professionals to ask good questions, provide critical feedback, and present specific solutions to their prospects.
  • Entrepreneurial – Individuals in sales are often entrepreneurial, meaning they are resourceful, not afraid of setbacks, and are intrinsically motivated to succeed.

The Role of Marketing

The focus of marketing teams is driving revenue from the overall market. They focus on engaging their target audience and creating awareness of their brand in the market they compete in. They need to understand the product, the audience, and how to speak to the common problems that their product or service solves.

A great marketing team can generate demand for their product by effectively reaching their target market, making them aware of their “problem,” and positioning their product/service as the solution.

Marketers tell a powerful story of their brand and the why, and how of what it does. Unlike sales who focuses on the individual customer’s problems, the marketing story is more about the common struggle(s) and solution of a target persona.

Managing multiple channels of communication is another critical part of marketing. A talented marketer must understand many communication modes, such as email, direct mail, paid digital ads, organic search, traditional media, etc.

In addition to demand generation, demand capture is another marketing task in their ultimate goal of driving revenue from the market. Marketing typically deploys more of a “pull” approach to get audiences to convert through calls to action and automation processes.

In some cases, like eCommerce, capturing a lead is essentially making the sale. This is often the case when the sales process is automated (often by marketing). Hence, why many eCommerce companies don’t have much of a sales team, if it all.

Great marketing people are often:

  • Creative – A great marketing professional is creative. Being skilled at writing, design, and strategy enables marketers to effectively create messages that resonate with their target audience(s).
  • Organized – Another skill of the modern marketer is organization and project management. Marketing is a complex function with many moving parts. Between managing vendors, advertising channels, and content strategy, staying organized is a must to be effective.
  • Team Leaders – Great marketing professionals are team players. They are skilled at leading internal and external stakeholders to bring their ideas to life and out into the marketplace.

The Overlap of Sales and Marketing

So what about the overlap? There are grey areas where both sales and marketing work on business development.

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that both sales and marketing are revenue-focused positions. They both are trying to increase the top-line of the profit and loss statement. The main difference is that marketing is focused on the earlier part of the revenue generation process, while sales is focused on the final parts.

Second, sales and marketing also touch the same asset – potential buyers. While marketing is focused on the broader market, they still are trying to convert individual buyers into potential leads. Likewise, sales is focused on the individual prospect, but they are actively prospecting from the pool of potential customers from the broader market.

Then there are some areas that don’t necessarily have a home in either sales or marketing specifically. In these cases, it more comes down to the skillset of the team and who wants to champion the roles:

Product Evangelist – While sales and marketing teams are not directly involved in product development, they can support the company as product evangelists. They can share the vision for your product, perform engaging demos, and highlight the need for your product in the marketplace. They can also indirectly influence product development by being the voice of the customer internally.

Thought Leadership – Becoming an external educator is a great way to leverage a passion for your industry. Events, webinars, content, social media, etc., are all tasks that both sales and marketing professionals are well positioned for publishing as thought leaders.

Buyer’s Journey – Sales and marketing teams should own the buyer’s journey together. Understanding how a buyer moves throughout the process from problem awareness to the final decision provides insight into both sales and marketing strategies.

Buyer’s Persona – The buyer persona is another important area for both sales and marketing. Knowing who is buying from you and why they are buying from you is crucial for marketing messaging and sales prospecting.

Process Improvement – The “process” of business development is the quantifiable way that revenue is generated in your business. This process should be a team effort, with sales and marketing working collaboratively to improve items like lead throughput, close ratios, and deal velocity. They should understand each other’s part in the process and leverage each other’s skills.

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